Chris Evert, who insists she has never given much thought to being considered the greatest women's tennis player ever, nevertheless moved another step closer today to making more history in the U.S. Open.
Rallying after trailing 4-1 in the first set, Evert used her relentless baseline attack to wear down Evonne Goolagong in a quarterfinal match, 7-5, 6-2.
That victory moved her into a semifinal match with another historymaker, Billie Jean King, who survivedh her own "rotten serve," pesky airplanes and a sloping court to eliminate Virginia Wade, 6-3, 7-6.
So now, Evert, who is going for an unprecedented fifth straight U.S. Open championship, faces King in a center court match Friday. Evert has beaten King seven straight times but King was hardly in any mood to concede today.
"The last three or four years I've had to play Chris I haven't been physically well," said King, who is aiming for a fifth U.S. Open championship after heel surgery last winter. "Now, I'm ready to win again. It's up to me to concentrate and think I can win every point. I've got to play my heart out on every shot."
Evert found herself in much the same state of mind after Goolagong, in a brilliant display of serve and volley, took control of the match early on to lead 4-1 after serving in the fifth game.
"I thought I started extremely well," Goolagong said later, "but I couldn't keep up the pace. I started off getting my first serves in, but I couldn't continue. And once that goes, my game falls apart."
Evert hardly helped the situation. After holding serve to cut Goolagong's lead to 4-2 she said she became "determined to hit out, hit more aggressively from the baseline and take more chances.
"Evonne started out so tough, she was getting all my passing shots and I've been in that position before with her. But it's tough for anyone to keep it up for two sets. I doubted if she could. I just knew I couldn't get impatient. I finally started hitting the ball harder and deep and I took more control."
Evert broke Goolagong with a crisp forehand passing shot to cut the advantage to 4-3 and broke her again in the ninth game of the first set after Goolagong netted a routine backhand from the baseline.
Evert was serving for the set and had a 40-15 advantage before Goolagong rallied, then broke back at 5-5 when Evert tried to lob and grimaced as the ball sailed deep.
Evert retained control, however, breaking easily in the next game and winning the set when Goolagong was guilty of four straight unforced errors.
Tied at 2-all, in the second set Goolagong hit a half-volley backhand wide to trail 30-40, then lost her serve when she hit another rather simple backhand volley deep. Evert ran off the next three games, despite trailing 40-0 on Goolagong's serve in the seventh game, for the match.
When it was over, Evert also insisted that she does have a weakness, that the woman they call The Ice Maiden, melts ever so slightly at the start of matches because "I get a little nervous. If I'm vulnerable, it's at the beginning of a match. But once I get my rhythm, well . . ."
King had rhythm and everything else going for her in her morning match with Wade in front of a half-full center-court crowd.
King had little difficulty in the first set and was serving for the match at 5-3 in the second when Wade suddenly began to claw back. Aided by a King double fault, Wade broke through on a zinging backhand passing shot as King rushed in.
Both held service to force a 12-point tie breaker. With King leading at 4-3 and serving. Wade hit a forehand passing shot down the right baseline that just caught the tape and fell back to her side.
King said she tried to take advantage of a center court she insisted sloped away from Wade's forehand on her next serve. Serving to the deuce court, she hit a hard twisting serve that Wade could not handle to take a 6-3 lead.
Wade saved one match point with a lovely backhand volley, but she double faulted on the next point and King clenched her fist and punched at the air in sheer joy and why not?
She underwent heel surgery last December and said today, "Last winter, this was my goal, to be ready for the Open. I knew I would probably be ready. Physically now is not a problem, it's the mental part. You have to be match tough, I need a lot of match play. Physically, though, I feel fantastic."